|Not my photo, BTW - but you get the idea!|
So you may remember that back in the spring I had a bit of a time deciding if I really wanted to commit to a garden this year. The weather gods had not smiled upon us the past few summers and I really just wasn't feeling up to it. Ultimately I decided to to "gardening lite" and since the season is almost up, I figured I'd give y'all the review of how it went.
The short answer is that gardening lite gets a bit thumbs up!
So here's the play by play.
Buying plants. So, in the past I've tried to start everything from seed - which is REALLY challenging with a house full of cats who will destroy anything that gets in the way of their window space. Letting go of the idea of starting things from seed made it much less stressful, if a tad bit less "green."
Watering. One of the biggest struggles I've had with gardens in the past was keeping enough water on them. So this year I mulched heavily with both straw and the free Christmas Tree mulch that the city gives away, and everything did much better. Of course, the fact that Denver has finally emerged from the drought didn't hurt! I also set up my homemade old garden hose drip irrigation system which made it sooo much easier when I did need to water.
|This photo is from a few summers ago when I wasn't quite so good about mulching! |
But you can see the old garden hose which has little holes poked in it to make a drip irrigation system.
Not sure why, but this made a HUGE difference in my attitude toward watering. It worked so well, in fact that I set up a similar system in the front yard switching between the sprinkler and the hand held sprayer. I plan to expand this whole concept next year to the "herb garden" section of the garden that got sorely neglected this season. (More on that later.) I may have to find a few more dead garden hoses somewhere, but that shouldn't be too difficult!
Plant Protection. Another big gardening struggle here in Denver is hail. Not sure why, but our city is pretty vulnerable to frozen marbles and golf balls falling from the sky. In the 19 years that I've lived here I've lost numerous gardens to hail, not to mention roofs, windows and siding!
So this year I decided that I'd had enough of the OMG here comes a storm, quick cover the garden game and I constructed a hail cover for a big section of the garden. Early in the spring I crafted some individual protectors for each plant using some old pieces of window screen.
|This photo also shows off this year's thorough mulching!|
|It was sort of a pain to put up so I decided that the volunteer squash was on it's own, |
which worked out just fine!
The only problem with my little "hail house" is that it isn't terribly sturdy, and was sorta hard to put up. I was hoping I'd be able to leave it up all winter, but it's really rickety, so I think it's coming down when the garden is done. But for next year I have an even better idea for a new and improved hail protection system.
My basic plan is to buy a large portable greenhouse. Something like this:
This may take come creativity to accomplish, but I'm planning to cover the frame (at least the top portion) with the hardware cloth so it can function as a "hail house." Then I can use the cover that comes with it on top of the hardware cloth in the early spring and in the fall to extend the growing season. I'll take the cover off during the main gardening season so it doesn't get too much wear and tear, and so the plants don't over heat.
If it works like I'm hoping, it should also save me from the quick, cover the plants here comes an unseasonable snow/frost/etc panic that seems to strike several times each year. Hopefully I can avoid having to employ too many creative tent-building schemes next year!
Plant Support. I'm not sure if you could tell from the pictures, but my poor tomatoes suffered again from toppled over syndrome. It happens every year - they get so big and tall that they outgrow their 3-4 foot tall tomato cages. I staked the cages this year so they wouldn't fall over, but still the branches grew too big and draped over the tops making it hard to harvest the tomatoes and doing damage to some of the stalks.
So next year I'm either gonna suck it up and buy some expensive taller cages (like the six feet tall variety) or else I'm gonna try a new system. I was watching one of my "escape from the Amish" television shows recently (I'm a bit obsessed with this topic... sorry) Anyhow, there was a scene where they showed them growing tomato plants and instead of cages, they somehow trained them to grow up strings like this:
Has anybody out there ever tried this system? I'd love to know how difficult it is or isn't. I figure if I'm gonna leave the greenhouse frame set up all season, I'll have something that I can easily tie the strings to.
I also need to give the cucumbers something to grow up because they got totally lost under all of the squash this year. Perhaps the old tomato cages can be re-purposed for the cucumbers!
Plant Selection. OK, here's where I still need some work.
I knew going into this season that I did NOT want to be blanching, peeling and putting up boxes and boxes of tomatoes like I have in the past.
So instead of my customary 6-8 tomato plants, I just did 4 and two of them were cherry tomatoes. I think next year I'll just go with 2 plants, one cherry and one regular.
And in general, I think I just need to plant less of everything... like say, maybe just one zucchini plant next year! Seriously, I wasn't really gonna plant any, but there was some extra room so I threw a few seeds in the ground... you know how this story goes!
I also have to be ruthless with the volunteer squash. Apparently squash seeds don't compost very well, so I inevitably end up with them all through the garden, and for some reason I just feel too guilty to pull them up in the spring. But then they start to take over and shade everything else, and I end up with ridiculous amounts of pumpkins and mystery squash instead of what I wanted to grow.
NO MORE, I say! From now on, I shall be ruthless!
Which brings me to my dirty little secret....
That only covers about half of the garden. I actually have another section of raised garden beds that's even bigger than the part of the garden I've talked about so far, and I pretty much just ignored it this year.
To tell the truth, this whole section of the garden is pretty much a mess. The raised beds that I constructed about 15 years ago are completely falling apart, and I think I've decided to do away with them completely and just make this into one big plot. Having everything boxed off was a nice idea, but the reality of it ended up being that it was just too difficult to maintain that way.
Trying to turn the soil in those boxes is a real pain in the arse, especially now that entire sections of the wood has rotted away, and over the years the paths have filled with so much debris that the landscaping cloth that was supposed to keep things from growing there is practically meaningless because there's at least 3 inches of soil on top of it now!
Plus, the oregano and catnip have nearly taken over their entire plots, and other sections are being invaded with creeping bellflowers... which are impossible to dig out because the boxes are in the way, and the asparagus that I've been trying to grow in the plots on the right hand side is doing absolutely nothing!
Anyhow, I think my plan for this section is gonna be to remove the boxes, do some terracing (it's on a bit of a hill) and then use the area for perennials (like asparagus... not willing to give up yet) and herbs. Removing the boxes will also make it easier to set up another garden hose drip system there.
And... we're not done yet.
This little plot here also sat fallow this past year:
I haven't decided what to do with this section yet, but I'm thinking that I might plant another section of raspberries because they're so easy to grow and honestly, is it possible to have too many raspberries?
But before I do anything with this area, there's a volunteer elm stump that needs to be removed - so since that could very likely take all next summer to accomplish, I'm not really gonna worry about what to put here at the moment.
OK... so there it is! Just to summarize here... my plan going forward is:
- Fewer of each kind of plant
- More variety of crops
- Be ruthless with volunteers
- Set up greenhouse for hail and weather protection
- Automate watering with drip systems and hose diverters
- Better plant support
- Mulch, mulch, mulch!
- Create a place for perennials and herbs
- Buy from a nursery instead of planting everything from seed
- Stop trying to be perfect!!!! (heavy emphasis on this point!)
I guess the thing I realized this year is that it's OK to look at the garden as a fun hobby instead of a phantasmagorical save the planet while not spending a dime and making myself miserable in the process sort of a project. I don't have to try to preserve tons of food for the winter - I can just enjoy the fresh produce when I have it and plant with that in mind.
In fact, since I spent less time and energy during the growing season this year, I wasn't as burnt out as I usually am, and I actually did some things like making grape juice from the concord grapes and drying some oregano to use later.
I even had the energy to experiment with freezing some summer fruit (peaches and watermelon) that are sooo cheap and plentiful now, but will be unavailable soon (unless you count stuff flown in from the southern hemisphere).
Somehow I've always chaffed against the idea of buying things for the garden... like greenhouses, or extra hoses, or plants from a nursery. It sorta went against my "something for nothing" gardening philosophy.
But ultimately, sustainability has to be sustainable for the people too. And perhaps making a few compromises like this will let me enjoy it more, and keep doing it longer!